Ethics

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It seems that googling for images on ethics mostly turns up caricatures, pictures of ethics workshops, and book covers about the ethics of one business field or another. Oddly enough, religious images hardly ever turn up. But this post isn’t to wonder about that, it’s to do with something else — as such, the image I’m including doesn’t really have much to do with the post contents, but it’s the best summary of search results that I’ve found.

This post is in reaction to someone somewhere else asking the age-old question, why purportedly intelligent people behave stupidly. The context in which the question was asked this time is irrelevant, but it’s usually asked when people do something that can’t easily be logically or ethically explained.

The reason, I suppose, has something to do with cognitive dissonance. I’m using the term because Scott Adams has been going on about it recently, and it’s a good enough term. It’s also pretty closely related to a model of learning I’ve written about.

As a quick recap, according to Wikipedia,

cognitive dissonance is a psychological term describing the uncomfortable tension that may result from having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging in behavior that conflicts with one’s beliefs, or from experiencing apparently conflicting phenomena.

In order to escape that uncomfortable feeling, people either adjust their beliefs or their perception of reality1 to the circumstances, in order to be able to integrate both thoughts better.

As a result, driving gas-guzzling SUVs becomes just a bit of harmless fun. Killing animals for food becomes just fine, because, after all, they had a good live, didn’t they? Besides, you’re killing them respectfully. In theory, that is, because you know, who does their own slaughtering nowadays? Wars can be rationalized by removing oppressors, torture can be rationalized because it cleanses the soul of all sin. I don’t think there’s a single thing you can’t rationalize with a shift in your beliefs.

As you can see by the previous paragraph, I thoroughly disapprove of such thinking. What’s worse is when people have double standards, donate to the victims of a war while cheering on soldiers walking into it. That sort of thing.

Because I detest this type of thinking, I’ve always felt that I’m somewhat above the whole issue. Not that I can somehow magically escape the pressure of cognitive dissonance, but that I don’t usually choose the easy way out that includes modifying my beliefs.

  1. Which is really pretty much the same thing. []